From coughing Cavaliers to chesty Chihuahuas, coughing in dogs can have many different causes.
It's normal for your dog to cough every now and then
Kennel cough is the most common cause of coughing in dogs, and although it speads easily between dogs, it is rarely serious
It's important to identify the cause of coughing in case it has a more serious cause such as lungworm or heart disease
Get your dog checked over by a vet if their cough is not getting better after a few days, them seem unwell, or the cough is affecting their breathing
What causes a dog to cough?
There are several reasons as to why your dog might be coughing:
Kennel Cough – a highly contagious infection that spreads from dog to dog via close contact or saliva. It is rarely serious and there is no specific treatment, although sometimes anti-inflammatories are prescribed to make them feel more comfortable. Usually, your dog will get better with time alone. . Occasionally, your dog will develop a secondary bacterial infection which may requrie antibiotics.
Lungworm – a potentially deadly worm that lives in the lungs.. Lungworm larvae (the bit that dogs need to eat to make them unwell) are found in the slime of slugs and snails which often cover water bowls and dog toys left in the garden overnight, Dogs do not have to eat the slug or snail to become infected. Luckily there are very effective preventative treatments for lungworm which your vet can prescribe.
Heart disease - means that the heart doesn't pump blood as effectively around the body as it should. This can result in fluid accumulating on the lungs causing your dog to cough.
Inhaled foreign material - dogs can sometimes accidentally breathe in things they shouldn't, for example, grass seeds or food. This can result in a bacterial infection in the lungs called pneumonia.
Laryngeal paralysis - usually occurs in older dogs due to age-related degeneration of the nerves that control the vocal folds.
Tracheal collapse – is a weakening of the cartilage in your dog’s windpipe . The cartilage hold the windpipe in a tube-shape to allow air through. If it collapses, it can cause a cough that sounds like a loud ‘goose-honk’
Lung disease - There are many different but less common causes of coughing ranging from asthma to lung cancer to a fungal infection
There are also breed specific conditions, for example West Highland White Terriers can develop a lung condition known as Canine Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis or “Westie Lung”.
How do I know what's causing my dog's cough?
It is really important to identify the underlying cause of the cough so the correct treatment and management is initiated.
Your vet will perform a full clinical exam of your dog, including checking for infection and listening to their heart and lungs using a stethoscope. They may also feel the windpipe.
The type of cough and how it sounds can sometimes be a good clue as to what the cause might be. If you can, video your dog coughing and show it to your vet.
Your vet may suggest further investigations such as blood tests, x-rays or endoscopy (a long thin tube with a camera at the end) to diagnose the cause of the cough.
When should I be concerned?
You should take your dog to the vet if:
Their cough isn't better after a few days, or is getting worse
They seem more tired than usual
The cough is affecting their breathing
They seem unwell
They are coughing up blood
How is coughing treated?
It depends on what the cause of your dog's cough is. If they have kennel cough, they might not need any treatment at all, or they might need a short course of medication.
For other causes of coughing, your dog might need medication such as antibiotics, heart medication or steroids. If your dog has accidentally inhaled a foreign object such as a grass seed, or has an issue with their heart or lung structure, they might even need surgery.
Your vet will advise you on the best way to treat your dog's cough. If your dog is coughing and you want to talk through the available options, please make an appointment with one of your friendly vets.